Teta, Mother, and Me: Three Generations of Arab Women

Overview

Rich in warmth and insight, a personal and cultural history of three generations of Arab women.
In this "beautifully written memoir" (Publishers Weekly), Jean Said Makdisi illuminates a century of Arab life and history through the stories of her mother, Hilda Musa Said, and her Teta, "Granny" Munira Badr Musa. Against the backdrop of the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the rise of Arab nationalism, the founding of Israel, the Suez crisis, the Arab-Israeli wars, and civil war in ...

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Overview

Rich in warmth and insight, a personal and cultural history of three generations of Arab women.
In this "beautifully written memoir" (Publishers Weekly), Jean Said Makdisi illuminates a century of Arab life and history through the stories of her mother, Hilda Musa Said, and her Teta, "Granny" Munira Badr Musa. Against the backdrop of the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the rise of Arab nationalism, the founding of Israel, the Suez crisis, the Arab-Israeli wars, and civil war in Beirut, she reveals the extraordinary courage of these ordinary women, while rethinking the notions of "traditional" and "modern," "East" and "West." With a loving eye, acute intelligence, and elegant, impassioned prose, Makdisi has written "much more than a memoir," rather "an embrace of history and culture" (Cleveland Plain Dealer).

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this beautifully written memoir, Makdisi (author of Beirut Fragments; sister of the late Edward Said) explores the lives of three generations of Palestinian women, deftly illuminating a tumultuous century of modern Middle Eastern history, while raising important questions about the efficacy of ideology, the process of social development and the role of memory. Opening with the author's birth during WWII-"my birth occurred at a particularly unromantic time: the anxiety of the war and the events in Palestine and Egypt weighed heavily on my parents"-the volume grows ever more engaging as Makdisi moves into the distant past of her grandmother Munira Badr Musa (or Teta) and her mother, Hilda Musa Said. Makdisi moves easily between dispassionate historical report and deeply felt emotion, mining first-person accounts where available and offering extensive research to fill in the gaps. Touching on one calamitous event after the other, from the devastating post-WWI famine in the Levant through the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and up to the Lebanese civil war-and explaining how the lives of women shaped and were shaped by each-Makdisi demonstrates how discussions of tradition and modernity generally miss the mark. "The word tradition is used," she says, "much more than it is explained," and women's specific histories, as they were actually lived generation by generation, are rarely taken into account. Valuable in its insights, sophisticated in its execution, this book deserves to be widely read. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Makdisi (Beirut Fragments, 1990) blends feminism and international politics in this examination of the lives and aspirations of the women of her family over roughly the last century. Born in Jerusalem to Arab Christians, Makdisi was raised by her grandmother Teta and mother to envision and train herself for "a perfect domestic life," an idea that "was as much a part of our feminine existence as the air we breathed." When she came of age, she writes, Makdisi and the women of her own generation dismissed the elders: "We thought they lacked strength, or imagination, or gratitude, or willpower, or intellect, or something." Living through the Lebanese civil war tempered such attitudes, and she embarked on a long project to reconstruct the elders' lives and times in order to understand just how much strength, and intellect, and imagination they had. Much of Makdisi's gentle and largely uncomplaining account is a catalogue of disappointments, for the lives of her forebears did not often match their dreams; her father, for instance, had to return to Palestine from his cherished America to satisfy his mother's deathbed bidding, "but he never really forgave her for deflecting him from what he had seen as his destiny in the New World." Just so, where she had always thought of Teta as a ghostly, elderly figure shrouded in black who moved silently throughout the house, Makdisi discovers that the Teta of the 1900s was a vivacious, beloved presence independent-minded enough to reject "the festive henna evenings that preceded weddings, especially in Galilee, where she now lived," a rejection that subtly ties in to Makdisi's earlier disquisition on why so many young Arabs are now taking the veil-"and manyyoung women, claiming their individual right to do so, are as zealous in this regard as their mothers or grandmothers were in removing it."Well-written and quite revealing.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393061567
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/24/2006
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 6.54 (w) x 9.28 (h) x 1.39 (d)

Meet the Author

Jean Said Makdisi was born in Jerusalem and studied in Cairo and the United States. She is the author of Beirut Fragments: A War Memoir, a New York Times Notable Book. She lives in Beirut.

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Table of Contents


Prelude     9
In My Own Time
Jean     23
A Cairo Childhood     32
Men and Women, Girls and Boys     41
A Kind of Education     61
'Ladies, Simply Ladies'     82
Suez     99
Ringing the Changes     104
Beirut     125
Teta in History
Tata's Family Origins: The Badrs of Schweir and the Haddads of Abeih     137
Homs     151
A Nineteenth-Century Syrian Schoolgirl     170
Alternative Paths     195
Marriage and War     210
Happiness     226
Mother's World
A Palestinian Girlhood     241
Partings     260
Schooldays in Beirut     270
Engagement and Marriage     283
Modern Bride, Housewife, Mother     308
Beyond the Memoir     326
Women Together: Mother and Me
Beirut Revisited     333
More Letters and War     355
Gentle Into the Night     370
Balance     381
Postlude     389
Acknowledgments     395
Seleted Bibliography     399
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